Crimes committed against children have become the order of the day in the recent past. A wide range of child abuse practices is committed in all countries across the globe. The whole experience of child abuse leaves painful memories in the minds of the victims and their families (Briere, 1992). A major cause of the upsurge in cases of criminal acts committed against children is the decadence of the modern society. The old good virtues of the ancient society are no longer considered necessary. They are regarded as old fashioned and anyone holding on to them is considered to be conservative. This paper will look at the criminal offences committed against children in this twenty first century. The main areas covered in this research paper are the types of crimes involving children as victims, laws safeguarding the rights of children, sentences and penalties imposed on perpetrators of child crimes, shortcomings of the measures taken against these criminals and ways of protecting a child from abuse.
Major Definitions And Statistics Of Crime Acts Against Children
There are different types of crimes against children. It would be impossible to mention all of them. However, the crimes can be categorized into three general terms. These are child abuse, child abandonment or neglect and child pornography. All the felonies done against children fall under these are three extensive groups. Of the three above, child abuse encompasses the most number of crimes. The other two types are at times mistakenly incorporated into child abuse. However, the differentiation of types of crime acts against children varies from state to state.
In the United States of America alone, five children pass on daily as a result of child abuse. Child abuse majorly comprises of child labor, child sexual mistreatment and child battery and assault. Child labor is the subjection of a child to an unbearable and overwhelming amount of work. This does not necessarily mean that the child is not in a position to handle the work. It means that the child is overworked. Child battery and assault refer to forceful and extreme undesirable punishment of a child by another individual. In most cases, it involves situations where there are instances of injuries sustained as a result of the abuse (Briere and Park, 2000). The abuse may take the form of physical beating or emotional disturbance.
Child sexual abuse is a widespread universal crime against children. According to estimation by Fergusson and Mullen (1999), more than 135,000 children are sexually abused each year in the United States of America. The most appalling fact is that most of these abuses are carried out by a person known and trusted by the victim. In some extreme cases, real parents have been the abusers of their children.
Child punishment is desirable to every child. It is indeed true that one who spares the rod spoils the child. Every child should be brought in a disciplined manner that will empower him or her to be a responsible and courteous member of the society. However, there is also a risk of overdoing it. This is where child abuse comes in. As much as all parents have a right to discipline their children, there is a limit that prohibits the parent from abusing the child. This fact eliminates the earlier misconception that children are only abused by people who are unfamiliar to them. In this context, it is now evident that children can also be treated by people who even love and care for them so much.
There are cases where parents, in their ambition to achieve more, have subjected their children to forced child labor. A recent study has revealed that seventy three million children aged between thirteen and fourteen years of age are engaged in money generating activities across the globe (Freyd, 1996). This is an unbelievable figure and the questions that stick out are: Who is to blame? Where are the parents of these children? Do these children have enough time for their studies? What are the Children Rights Activities and governments doing to avert this trend? The following explanation will help to provide subtle answers to the above questions.
The economic crisis that has maimed the economic systems of states in the last five or so years has obliged individuals to look for additional means of getting income. The high rate of inflation coupled with the scarcity of profitable jobs has forced reasonable parents to arrive at the unreasonable resolution of indulging their children in child labor. These incidences are majorly experienced in third world countries. It should be understood here that these parents wouldn’t have done this had there been a reliable source of income. Another explanation can be that the children were left in the hands of ruthless relatives after the death of their parents. The Children Rights Activists can do less to change anything in this situation because they are not aware of what is going on behind their backs. That is why it should be a personal responsibility of each and every individual to report cases of child abuse to the authorities.
According to Bartholet (2000), child neglect is the most common type of crime committed against children. The exact number of children who are neglected in each state is unknown because the issue is very rampant. Neglected and abandoned children are all over. There are various degrees of child neglect. The common ones include leaving a small child alone at home unattended for a long period of time. Another petty one is common among parents who tend to get so much engrossed in their work that they hardly spare any time for their families. The children are therefore abandoned emotionally because they don’t have anyone to share with what is in their mind.
Grave offences of child neglect include the abandonment of a child by either one or both parents who don’t provide for the child’s welfare. This happens especially in broken and divorced families. The abandoned child is left at the mercy of any well-wisher while the parents engage in a fierce debate on who should take care of the needs of the child (Finkelman, 1995). Although child neglect is prohibited by the law, it is on the rise nowadays because of infidelity in marriage and other factors.
It is the responsibility of every right-minded adult to protect any child from pornography. It’s everyone’s collective duty to keep pornographic materials out of reach of children. However, pornography is now widespread and littering the screens of billions of homes across the world. In the United States of America, a child is first exposed to pornography at an early age of eleven years. But there are those who are exposed to it at an even lower age. Although the number of children exposed to pornography in the country cannot be determined, it is large given that a large population of them has access to the internet. The fact that one pornographic movie is made in the United States after every thirty nine minutes bears witness to this.
To criminalize certain acts done to children, it becomes necessary to know in detail the universal rights each and every single child is entitled to. While some people abuse children with the knowledge that they are violating their rights, some do so out of ignorance. This is especially the case in developing countries where child rights may still be a strange term to many. Others have ended up abusing children in the name of obedience. As much as children should be obedient to their parents and all elders, their rights should also be taken into account. Children whose cries have been muffled in the name of obedience and loyalty to their parents are bound to lead a miserable life devoid of all the fun and enjoyment of childhood.
First and foremost, every child has a right to access of basic needs. These are food, clothing and shelter. Under normal circumstances, the parents of the child are the ones who are supposed to shoulder this responsibility. However, there are exceptions where the parents are dead or incapacitated. In such a case, the next of kin should see to it that the child has access to his or her basic needs. Other parties can also come in to provide material support to orphaned or extremely poor children. These may be church missions who may build children homes or orphanages, charity organizations and even the local government.
Secondly, every child has a right to education. In the present day world, education has become the key to everything, including a better life and a secure future. We are living in a world where jobs are only available to those who have good papers. Therefore, every child should be allowed to build a better tomorrow by using the time they have today to study. The significance of this right has been recognized by various governments who have then introduced free education in some of their learning institutions. The governments have also gone ahead to provide books, pens and some other literature to facilitate smooth learning in the institutions.
Moreover, every child is entitled to protection and safety. This protection is provided by an adult around the child and by the government on large scale. In a family, it is the duty of the parents, and more specifically the father, to ensure that all the children are safe and sound (Gartner, 1999). In circumstances where the parents are away, the older children should ensure that their siblings are secure. However, the security of children has been breached in war torn areas. A good example is the case of Peshawar, Japan, where gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying school children. Four children and a driver were killed. Such a terrible act on such innocent victims simply makes it clear that we are living in a world where child rights are nothing but a phrase in the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Children also have a right to freedom. Freedom comes in many forms. Freedom of movement is a right that each child in any part of the globe should enjoy. Children should only be restricted from going to areas that may be dangerous or that are only meant for adults. Such places include bars and night clubs. Parents who lock up their children violate their rights by doing so. In the same manner, children who are in juvenile without parole also have their rights tempered with. Although every child deserves to be locked up in jail for every crime, there is a possibility of rehabilitation of behavior and this should be taken into consideration.
Penalties And Sentences For Crime Acts Against Children
From the above discussion, it is clear that children, just like any other adult, have their rights which should not be tampered with. The tempering with of child rights is what results into crimes against children. Therefore, legal measures should be taken against anybody who commits a crime against a child. Different states have come up with varying penalties and sentences against those who commit crimes against children. The penalties and sentences are made in a bid to level down the currently high incidences of crimes against children.
With the increased incidences of felonies involving child victims, many states have realized the need to impose even more stringent penalties and sentences on the criminals. The value of fines and the number of years that the criminals would serve in prison have been increased by large margins (Masson, 1984). This is in a bid to scare off anyone who would contemplate about committing a crime against a minor. However, keeping in mind the ever rising number of criminal cases involving child victims, one is left to wonder whether we are losing the battle against these crimes.
The state of Texas is one among those states that have enacted harsher sentences and penalties on criminals who commit offences against minors. For instance, people who commit sexual crimes against children bear convictions of the same on their criminal record their entire life. This shuts them away from socializing freely with other people and even denies them a chance to get employment. The names and personal information of these child sex offenders are also available to the public on the internet and other sources. They are therefore doomed to pay for their acts throughout their lives. Prospective employers can also refer to this list before employing anybody. This makes it hard for the criminals to get any well-paying office job.
Another penalty for punishing child abuse criminals is by subjecting them to lengthy periods in prison. The shortest period one can spend in jail for committing a crime against a child is two years. Other serious offences such as sexual abuse of a child below fourteen years of age can lead to life imprisonment. This type of sentence is normally carried out without any parole. The notion behind this idea is that the criminal is dangerous to the community and there is no guarantee that he or she will change. The best alternative therefore is to lock them up for life. This treatment can be seen as extremely harsh or unfair but considering the amount of harm that such individuals can cause to innocent children, putting them behind bars for good is exactly what they deserve.
More serious crimes attract death sentences. Although many critics have opposed this sentence saying that it violates the Eighth Amendment of the US constitution, it is deemed to be the most effective way of getting rid of sexual offenders and scaring away those who had intentions of perpetrating other crimes against children. When it comes to death sentences, there have always been a number of heated debates on the suitability of the decision (Bibby, 1996). With religious leaders reiterating over and over that no man has the authority to take the life of a fellow human being, it calls for a prudent scrutiny of matters at hand before any such decision is arrived at. The most important point here is that by setting child sexual offenders on the loose, the lives of innocent children will be put at risk. After consideration of the above point, it is not as unfair as it may seem when an individual who is a real menace to the child’s welfare is hanged.
Shortcomings Of The Measures Taken Against Perpetrators Of Crimes Against Children
With the increase in the number of crimes committed against children, it is quite evident that the various penalties and sentences imposed on individuals who commit crime against minors have not been effective. With all the strict and at times life threatening penalties and sentences, one would think that the vice of child abuse and child offence will be out of the face of the universe. The fact that is not the case points to possibilities of presence of flaws in the system.
One of the shortcomings of the measures taken to nest child criminal offenders is the lack of reliability. Some claims of child abuse, neglect and pornography can be out of vested interests and sheer malice. One party can heap charges of child abuse on another to get at something personal. In this case, the child is manipulated and told what to say if confronted and cross-examined by officials from the Criminal Investigations Department. Adults can be manipulated too. For instance, a doctor can be manipulated using money to produce falsified results of test carried out on a child to determine whether he or she was sexually abused. Unbelievably, the police and those in authority can also be manipulated by money to heap false allegations on a person. This happens mostly in the event of a divorce or where husband and wife dispute over the custody of their child after a separation. There are cases where either parent has falsely taken the other to court for child abuse. However, most of the trickery behind these cases is usually unveiled after a careful cross-examination of the child.
Some of the measures taken upon alleged perpetrators are dehumanizing and shameful. When it comes to sexual offence against a minor, the issue is treated with so much haste and significance that no time is spared to interview the defendant. Medical reports may also not prove the defendant as to be not guilty because after a long relationship with the police, the doctor can be manipulated and told what to write. This explanation shows that not all who are alleged to have abused children are guilty of the offence. Some are not guilty but because of unavoidable circumstances, they end up paying for crimes that they did not commit. It would be helpful if these individuals are considered to be innocent by the society until proven guilty. This safeguards their rights too.
How To Protect Children From Abuse
Instead of pointing an accusing finger at those who commit crimes involving child victims, maybe it is time that we stopped the blame game and focused on the possible ways of preventing any of the crimes from happening. If appropriate steps and guidelines are put in place, a child will be in a position to avoid any kind crime against him or her, be it abuse, neglect or pornography. Child abuse by parents and any close people to the child can be avoided if they all sit down and identify such treatment as abuse (Hechler, 1988). They should then agree on an acceptable and legal means of punishment should the child be caught in a mistake. The child on the other hand can make a promise to avoid these punishments by doing what is right at all times.
Child abuse by strangers can be avoided by keeping the child in the company of an adult at all times. The adult will act as a shield through which the criminal must go through to get to the child, which is hard. Neglect can also be avoided if the child has company at all times. Moreover, in the event of a divorce, both parents should agree on when and who should provide for the needs of their child. They should also agree on who should be the custodian of the child and when the other can visit the child. Such small things are the ones that have the potential to taint someone’s name and if they are handled first, then such can be avoided.
Last but not least is the issue of pornography. The responsibility of keeping pornography out of reach of children starts with the nearest person to him or her. The chain traces back to the vendors, distributors and manufacturers of this harmful material. The manufacturers should not use children to pose as porn stars. They should also clearly label on top on every pornographic material that it is sexually explicit and not meant for children.
In conclusion, crimes committed against children are rampant nowadays. The crimes take many forms which are categorized under child abuse, child neglect and child pornography. In addition, some various laws and children rights are contrary to the crimes that some of them are victims to. There are also a set of penalties and sentences that have been put in place to counter these crimes. The heartrending bit of it however is that these penalties and sentences are marred with flaws. All in all, the most effective way of dealing with this situation is through application of preventive measures.
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